The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) has filed more than 300 comments with FERC that primarily question the necessity of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline's (ACP) proposed pathway through the Monongahela and George Washington national forests.
The USFS made its comments late last month after a draft report was filed by one of the project's backers, Dominion Transmission Inc. The agency's concerns echo those of conservation and environmental groups that claim the pipeline's proposed path would bifurcate sections of the national forests in West Virginia and Virginia and threaten the water supplies of nearby mountain terrain. While the USFS has granted ACP survey access in the area, its comments also indicate that it remains concerned about hazardous materials and the construction process.
The comments challenge the pipeline's need to cross the forests, noting that the USFS prohibits the use of forestland simply because it would offer the builders lower costs and a more convenient route. Federal officials also questioned restoration efforts after the project is completed.
The 550-mile ACP would run from Harrison County, WV, southeast through Virginia and into eastern North Carolina, pairing Marcellus and Utica shale natural gas with growing demand in the two states. Construction is expected to begin next year and continue through 2019, with a tentative in-service date of 2018. The $4.5 million project is backed by Dominion, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and AGL Resources.
A Dominion spokesman said surveying that has been completed since its last draft report in May would address the USFS concerns,. That information is expected to be filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) by the end of the summer. Dominion also said that wetland and wildlife surveys would be completed soon.
The ACP has drawn both opponents and supporters since it was announced last year (see Daily GPI, Sept. 2, 2014). In June, the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance, a coalition of 35 conservation and environmental groups, was formed to oppose the project, and it raised concerns similar to the USFS (see Daily GPI, June 23) Less than a month later, another coalition of more than 100 businesses, labor organizations and other groups pledged to support the ACP and raise awareness about its economic benefits (see Daily GPI, July 6).